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Archive for February, 2010

Jan 1st 2010 was the scariest day of my life. We were vacationing in Goa that week, and that particular day we were playing in Baga beach. It was sometime around mid-afternoon (around 3.30 pm or so). We were enjoying the warm waters and the thinner crowds (it is all relative, thinner compared to the previous day, but still very populated compared to the beaches abroad). SK (4 yrs old) wanted to take a break from the water and just play in the sand. I sat her down in an empty area which we could see from quite a distance and joined PK and AK back in the water. We were literally checking on her every minute and she seemed content playing. After about 15 minutes, when I looked at that spot (probably for the 15th time), I did not find her there. My heart missed a beat, but I immediately found her about 10 steps to the right where she was collecting more sand. I thought may be she is getting restless and walked back to her and sat down with her to play.

Apparently the sand in her original spot was not enough for her, so she wanted to go around a few steps, collect some and bring it back to her spot. She did this one or two more times and I must have momentarily spaced out. Next thing, AK comes to me and says he needs to use the bath room (and do the big job!). This is very unusual since he, like me, has a mortal fear of public restrooms and rarely ever needs to go when we are out and about (this internal defense mechanism has gotten even stronger after we have moved here). I tell him to go back and ask PK. And then I look around for SK but cannot spot her anywhere. Since it must barely have been two minutes since I last saw her I physically got up and looked front, back, left, right and near the water but could not find her. By then PK was also coming out of the water to help AK with his need. I told him I was not able to locate SK and asked him also to look. Soon the 3 minutes turned to 5 and we couldn’t see signs of her anywhere and we started to get a bit frantic. I went and reported this to the life guard on duty. He said not to worry as it was an almost weekly occurrence there and invariably the children would be found nearby somewhere. He promised to get his tractor and go the length of the beach and announce on the loud speaker. I sat with him inside the vehicle and we must have traveled half the length and I was crying on the mic asking for her to come to the vehicle if she heard me. The loud speaker was not at all powerful, I probably could have screamed louder than that. All this while PK was going around yelling her name at the top of his lungs, he just wanted everyone to be aware that a child was missing. And AK is just trying to go behind one parent or the other crying. I don’t know if he realized the gravity of the situation.

But for me, time came to a stand still. When we didn’t find her in the first 10 minutes or so, I completely despaired. My main area of interest in searching was between our shack (where we had rented out lazy chair-beds and left our belongings there) and the spot where we were playing. This must have been a 200 or 300 meter stretch. I didn’t see any point in going beyond that in the patrol vehicle since I thought it was a waste of time. Meanwhile people were asking how long it had been since we noticed her missing, exactly when we first noticed her gone etc. It was such a bad time and place for this to happen (not that there is ever a good place or time for children to get lost). Since we expected to be a in a crowded beach and mostly in the water all day, we didn’t have our watches, cell phones, cameras or anything with us. People were asking if she knew our phone numbers, if we had a picture of her etc, and we had nothing. Our hotel was at least a 90 minute ride by taxi from this beach. I was just going crazy with all kinds of scary thoughts – you know, the usual, about kidnapping etc. Some people were suggesting we look in the water but I was confident she would not have gone in, especially if she didn’t see us. I wanted the life guard to register a complaint with the police. They were still saying we would find her but I was just dying every passing minute. Because we started this search with in 2-3 minutes of not seeing her and it was now almost close to 30 minutes or so. Who knows what could have happened. And I was also feeling major guilt since she was on my watch, but in retrospect, such a momentary lapse can happen to anyone, isn’t it? Another concerned parent was having the same terrible thoughts I guess. He was saying that we need to call the police to make sure that an eye is kept near the exits of the beach. But the long line of shacks are also scary, crowded places and who would search those, if we suspected any mishap. Man, I didn’t even want to complete those thoughts. I was pleading with the life guard to please do something and he said he would radio all the towers one last time before involving the police. I don’t know if he had a chance to do that, but the next minute he told me she had been found. I didn’t really believe him, thought it must be a mistake. Because with all of us searching for her and not having found her, how could she turn up so suddenly? Anyway, he made me sit in his patrol vehicle and took me there. Sure enough, she was in PK’s arms and he was crying profusely. The next few moments are a total blur. Obviously, we are ever indebted to the person who found her and brought her back, but I don’t know if we even expressed our sincere gratitude. We had so many questions for him, but a huge crowd had gathered, she looked so dazed and we just couldn’t stop crying. We just took down his number, and walked back to our chair-beds. Along the way, all the onlookers had lots of questions, comments and we tried to answer everyone politely, but mostly we just wanted to be alone and needed some privacy. After sitting in silence for the next ½ hr or so, AK wanted to go back in the water. But we were not in the mood. We promised him that the next day, he could spend the whole day at the pool in the resort. He was an angel and didn’t fuss. We rode back to the resort in silence.

The whole situation left us completely shaken for the next few days. How much ever you think of prevention, what we could have done differently etc, this is not something you can rehearse for. Later the whole evening we were just discussing all this and AK said “Can’t you just be happy we found her? Why do you need to keep on talking about it?” I don’t know if he understood the seriousness of the episode. And I don’t know how I can make him realize it without scaring him. We did talk to both of them again about the importance of sticking together in crowded places, not wandering off etc etc, but still it is never enough. I told SK I was so sad and scared when I couldn’t find her and she goes “But why momma? I wasn’t in any danger.” Her version of how it happened: “I went for a short walk to get more sand but after that I couldn’t find you, so I kept walking looking for you, but couldn’t find you. But on the way back, the short walk became a long walk and I also saw some goats on the way back”.

If this had happened at the beginning of the trip, we would have just headed back home right away, but this happened with only a day to spare, so we just hung out at the resort the next day and came back to Bangalore. We also called the person who had brought her back. Apparently, he found her more than one kilometer away at the next beach – Calangute beach (which is the most popular beach in Goa and hence the most crowded). He had heard that a 4 yr old girl, wearing a brown wet suit, was missing. He saw her and called out her name and she turned and he knew he had found her. We offered to buy him dinner and/or drinks but he was single and vacationing with a bunch of friends and he declined.

The first few days SK used to refer to this incident as “When I went for a short walk which became a long walk”. Now she just says “when I got lost”. I think she has talked about it in school etc, but there are only so many details a 4 yr old will recount. So not sure if they take her seriously. We are so thankful to have found her safe and sound and realize that not all families are so lucky. My heart goes out to them.

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Fri, June 19, 2009

My friend’s family left for India today, so she went to SFO to drop them off. We unloaded the car and returned it @ a total of  4414 miles, on our cross country trip. It was all driven by PK. I didn’t as much as touch the wheel. I offered, but he was not ready to have a ton of snacks and drinks at his feet and dole them out as needed. He found that more stressful than driving.

The repacking, re-arranging of stuff is driving us nuts. Friend has offered to get one bag for us when she visits in August. But we still have a mountain of scary stuff which we are trying to optimize to fit in 8 bags.

For dinner, we are meeting another friend in Santa Clara whom we haven’t seen in almost 10 yrs. Should be fun …

Tomorrow, the plan is to leave for SFO after lunch. AK wants to see the golden gate bridge. So hang around there, have dinner and then fly out. Supposed to be our last night in the U.S and no time for reflection, nostalgia. We are all exhausted and frankly we don’t see an end to this madness, right now. As soon as we land in Bangalore, there’s the schools to chase for admissions, a temporary home until ours is ready etc….

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Day 13: Arrived, at last

Thu, June 18, 2009

Today was another day of constant driving. Our initial plan was to go to Lake Tahoe and spend a night there. That would break the monotony of two full days of driving, but after so many days on the road, we just wanted to reach CA. So we drove endlessly again. The kids did great. There were just two breaks again – one for lunch (at an Indian restaurant in Reno) and another for coffee/snacks around 4.30 pm. While in Reno, I did some desperate shopping in a strip mall, trying to use up some of the gift cards I had accumulated (Barnes and Noble, TJ Maxx etc). Wasn’t a pleasant experience – it was too hot, the kids were tired and cranky and I was forced to shop in a hurry.

Driving through NV was a breeze since the roads were empty. As soon as we entered CA, it got nasty. First there was some road work on the interstate, so only one lane was open. We crawled for what seemed like eternity. By the time we hit Sacramento, it was full blown rush hour traffic. Since we could use the car pool lane, it was manageable.

I was so glad to be in my friend’s home in San Jose. After so many days on the road, it was really nice to be in a house, eat home made food etc.

Miles driven today: 541

States: NV, CA

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Day 12: Almost there

Wed, June 17, 2009

Today’s agenda was to just start driving towards our final destination, the bay area. But that is more than 1000 miles, so no way we can do that without a night’s break. So we had booked a room at the Hilton Garden Inn in Elko, NV for the night.

We drove pretty much non-stop, except for a couple of short breaks. Passed through some mountains in Western Idaho and many small towns. Rural America has its own charm. We were very impressed by Twin Falls, ID. We reached Elko by evening. We are tired but also relieved that we are almost there. Another day to go. After a long time, had burritos for dinner.

Miles driven today: 420

States: WY, ID, NV

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Tue, June 16, 2009

Today’s plan was to go to Jenny lake, hike one of the trails and an activity on the lake. Weather was never great through out the trip, but it was particularly bad in South Dakota and Wyoming. Just cloudy, drizzly, foggy …

I had read and heard a whole bunch about Jenny lake and was eager to get there. We drove there quite early in the morning. There were no crowds. I had done some research on some hiking possibilities and we had decided on Inspiration point as the destination. There are two ways to do this hike. The longer way is that you walk along the shore of the lake from the visitor center for about 2 miles and then climb up to Inspiration point (1 mile). Or you can take a boat ride to the trail head and cut out the walk along the shore. Since SK was only 3.5 yrs, a 6 mile hike would have been too much for her, so we had decided to take the boat ride to the trail head. It’s a short 10 minute ride on calm waters with awesome views of the mountains.

Inspiration point - Jenny lake in the background

There were a good number of hikers and we started climbing up. After passing by a creek, at around ½ mile, is the hidden falls. But I could just catch a glimpse through dense trees and didn’t find any good viewing platform for the falls. We continued on to Inspiration point. The hike continues on into a Canyon, but we stopped here and enjoyed the views.

On our way back, I was curious if we could catch a better view of the Hidden falls. We had to look around quite a bit and we finally spotted some hikers coming from another path. And they asked us to go a few meters further up to catch a better view. Here we could see the full height of the falls and it was quite pretty. But hanging around there was difficult since the ground was very slushy and it was crowded too. So after a few pictures, we walked down to the boat dock and rode back. A better description of this hike (done by someone else) is here, complete with pictures.

Hidden falls

After lunch, we looked at something to do on the lake. There were no speed boats or kayaks here, so it had to be canoeing. PK is ok with kayaking, but in the past, when ever the conversation turned to canoeing, he would become resistant. But today the kids were eager to do something anything on the water, he agreed. Overall, all of us enjoyed the experience. When the boats across the lake came, the wake used to rock us a lot and that was a bit scary, but other than that, it was a lot of fun. At one point, it looked like PK was more worried about all the expensive stuff we had (HD camcorder, camera, 2 blackberries etc) than us! I think the best views of the mountains were from inside this lake.

After this we wanted to go up Signal mountain on the auto road. On the way from the Jenny lake center to Signal mountain, there were a line of cars pulled over by the roadside, so we joined the party. Turned out, there was a black bear cub limping about. Seems to have hurt one of his legs and he was hovering in that vicinity. Signal mountain road was a scenic drive and very nice views at the top – the lakes, the mountains, the park, Snake river …. But the mosquitoes and other insects there were very bothersome. So we didn’t stay for very long.

On our drive back, another car flagged us down about half way through the mountain. A cyclist who was going down had fallen and injured himself and there was problem with the bicycle too. The car which flagged us down was a sedan with an elderly couple inside. They wanted to help the cyclist but couldn’t fit both him and the bicycle in their car. So they wanted us to go along. Our SUV was stuffed to the brim (from stuff for the road trip and our India luggage) and there was barely room for a cat inside. We cleared out a few things and the kids squished themselves and he somehow squeezed in the backseat. He had to be dropped back to Jackson, WY (almost 50 miles away), in the opposite direction of where we were headed. I wasn’t too happy initially, but you gotta do the right thing, so we did. We had to exit the park, pass by the Jackson airport and reached Jackson in about an hour. Jackson is a charming city and I regretted that we didn’t get to spend any time there at all.

The cyclist turned out to be an interesting kid, in his teens. He was from Netherlands and on a 2 month trip to the U.S and was doing a cross-country trip. He was mainly taking public transportation between cities/points of interest, staying in hostels and doing local touring by bicycle. He had started in the east coast and gone to similar places we had (by bus or train). Everyone enjoyed the conversation and AK seemed in awe of that kid’s adventures. After dropping him off, it was a quiet ride back to the cabin.

Miles driven today:126

States: WY

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Mon, Jun 15, 2009

This was our last day in Yellowstone.  To start off, we drove on the South Rim Drive. Undeniably, the highlight of this part of the park is the Artist’s point. A postcard perfect spot to catch the Lower falls and the Yellowstone canyon! We wanted to hike down Uncle Tom’s trail but it had still not opened for the season. That was a disappointment since the viewing platforms on this trail are supposed to give the closest view of the falls.

We were done by mid-morning and we started driving down towards Grand Teton National Park. A milestone we passed through was the continental divide. The drive itself was short and soon enough we were in Grand Teton. We chose a picnic table by the Jackson lake with a view of the Tetons.

As far as accommodations were concerned, we had not made any advance reservations here before we left home, because our plan was to camp and the lady had said it was very early in the season and campgrounds would be pretty empty, so no need for reservations. But after the Yellowstone experience, no one was in the mood for another two freezing nights in the outdoors. So we went and checked into log cabins at the Colter Bay Village. The cabins were good and SK was pretty excited that there was a bathroom and a TV!

We went back near the marina to see if we could catch a ride on the speed boats. But it was quite expensive and rides were closing for the day in a few minutes, so we didn’t want to be hurried. We ditched that and took a small walk along the lake shore. Beautiful views …

Artist's point

I liked Grand Teton a lot. I’ve visited so many parks, many of them quite unique and beautiful, but somehow the small parks always impress me. Usually the parks are so big that even after a four-day stay, I leave with the feeling that I couldn’t do everything that I wanted. But the advantages of these smaller gems are that they are quite beautiful too, less crowded and in a 2-3 day stay, you get to see and do a lot more. I remember liking Zion National Park for similar reasons.

Miles driven today: 120

States: WY

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